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State v. Land

Superior Court of Delaware

November 14, 2018

State of Delaware
Maurice Land

          Date Submitted: October 1, 2018

          Benjamin S. Gifford IV, Esquire The Law Office of Benjamin S. Gifford, IV

          Casey L. Ewart, Esquire Deputy Attorney General Department of Justice


         Dear Counsel:

         This is my decision on Defendant Maurice Land's timely-filed Amended Motion for Postconviction Relief. Land was convicted of Robbery in the First Degree, Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony, Conspiracy in the Second Degree, Tampering with Physical Evidence, Resisting Arrest, and Theft under $1000. The convictions arose out of Land's robbery of a store employee at the Dollar General store in Georgetown, Delaware. I sentenced Land to serve 55 years and six months at Level 5, suspended after serving 51 years and six months at Level 5 for one year of probation on December 11, 2015. The Supreme Court affirmed Land's convictions on January 10, 2017.[1]


         Land's convictions arose out of an armed robbery of the Dollar General store in Georgetown, Delaware. On August 9, 2014, an employee of the Dollar General store in Georgetown, Delaware was taking a register till to her office shortly before 9:00 p.m. As she entered her office, a man wearing a black hat and a t-shirt that said "Security" on the back approached her in her office while displaying a black handgun. He ordered her to give him the money from the register till she had and another till that was in the office. After she did so, he told her to get on the ground. The man then exited the store and the employee called the police.

         Shortly after the robbery occurred, Corporal Joel Diaz of the Georgetown Police Department observed three black males run across the street. Corporal Diaz testified that his attention was initially drawn to the men because a series of robberies had taken place in the area. As Corporal Diaz continued to observe the men, a call came over his radio that a robbery had taken place at the Dollar General store, which was a quarter of a mile away from his location. The radio call described the suspect as a black male dressed in all black and possibly armed with a handgun. Corporal Diaz realized that one of the three men that he was observing was dressed in all black. The officer approached the men, rolled down his window and asked them to stop. At first, the men ignored him, but when Corporal Diaz stopped and exited his vehicle, one of the men later identified as Christopher Clay, ran. Corporal Diaz radioed to other officers to pursue Clay and ordered the other two men, later identified as Maurice C. Land and Booker T, Martin, to stop.

         Corporal Diaz and another Georgetown Police officer, Officer Derrick Calloway, were eventually able to detain Land and Martin. As Land was getting on the ground, he removed his shirt, which was black with "Security" written across the back in yellow letters. The officers also found a black baseball cap on the sidewalk near where Land had been standing. At the time of his arrest, Land had a latex glove and $81 in cash on his person. Martin had $897 in cash in his pocket in three bundles that were folded and organized by denomination.

         While Corporal Diaz and Officer Calloway were with Land and Martin, Officer John Wilson was responding to Corporal Diaz's call to pursue Clay. Officer Wilson saw Clay running in the opposite direction of his car. He exited the vehicle and began chasing Clay on foot. Clay continued to run, and Officer Wilson observed him raise his hand into the air. Officer Wilson testified:

I didn't know if [Clay] was going to run like he was going to turn or if he was throwing something. And I thought -1 did think I saw something leave his hand, but the lights are - it was dark; my overheads on my police car are on; everything's flashing.

         Clay eventually got into a parked vehicle, and Officer Wilson ordered him out of the vehicle at gunpoint. Clay had $280 in cash in his pocket, folded and organized by denomination, and $1.17 in change. Officers later recovered a black handgun on the opposite side of a fence near where Officer Wilson observed Clay making a throwing motion.

         Security footage from the Dollar General store showed Clay entering the store with Land shortly before 9:00 p.m. Land went to the back of the store and into the office, where surveillance cameras recorded him putting on a clear glove and taking money out of an employee's wallet. When the employee entered the office, Land pointed a handgun at her and demanded the money from the register tills. He then made her get on the ground, and he left the office. As Land was in the back of the store, Clay placed several items on the counter. Four seconds after Land left the store, Clay followed without purchasing any of those items.[2]

         A joint trial for Land and his co-defendants was held. All three of the defendants were subsequently convicted at trial. Martin's convictions, except for a misdemeanor Resisting Arrest charge, were later vacated and dismissed pursuant to a post-trial Motion for Judgment of Acquittal.


         This is Land's first motion for postconviction relief and it was filed in a timely manner. Land argues that his trial counsel was ineffective. Land's trial counsel and the State have filed affidavits in response to Land's allegations. Land argues that his trial counsel was ineffective because he (1) failed to file a motion to sever his trial from that of his co-defendants, (2) unwisely presented evidence to the jury of robberies committed in Baltimore, Maryland with a similar modus operandi, and (3) failed to argue on appeal that the trial court erred in denying his motion for judgment of acquittal as to his conviction for Tampering with Physical Evidence. Land submitted four different arguments in his pro se motion for postconviction relief. I then appointed postconviction counsel for Land. Land's postconviction counsel did not advance any of them. Therefore, I have considered Land's four pro se arguments to be abandoned. The United States Supreme Court has established the proper inquiry to be made by courts when deciding a motion for postconviction relief.[3] In order to prevail on a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel pursuant to Superior Court Criminal Rule 61, the defendant must engage in a two-part analysis.[4] First, the defendant must show that counsel's performance was deficient and fell below an objective standard of reasonableness.[5]Second, the defendant must show that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense.[6] Further, a defendant "must make and substantiate concrete allegations of actual prejudice or risk summary dismissal."[7]

         To establish prejudice, the defendant must show that "there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine the outcome."[8] To establish a reasonable probability of a different result, the defendant needs to "show a 'probability sufficient to undermine the confidence in the outcome,' a standard lower than 'more likely than not.'"[9] Moreover, "[t]he benchmark forjudging any claim of ineffectiveness must be whether counsel's conduct so undermined the proper functioning of the adversarial process that the trial cannot be relied on as having produced a just result."[10] It is also necessary that the defendant "rebut a 'strong presumption' that trial counsel's representation fell within the 'wide range of reasonable professional assistance,' and this Court must eliminate from its consideration the 'distorting effects of hindsight when viewing that representation.'"[11]

         I. Motion to Sever

         Land argues that his trial counsel was ineffective because he did not file a motion to sever his trial from that of his co-defendants. Land argues that once it became apparent pre-trial that Clay and Martin would deny involvement in the robbery and claim that Land had acted alone, trial counsel should have moved to have Land's trial severed so that he would not have to fend off both the prosecutor and counsel for his co-defendants. Land argues that this failure allowed his co-defendants to ask questions during the trial that placed the blame solely on him and to argue that Land committed the robbery alone. Land also argues that his trial counsel should have moved for a mistrial when counsel for his co-defendants did this. And finally, Land argues that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the jury instructions because they were framed in a manner that presented Land as a principal in committing the robbery and his co-defendants as accomplices.

         In response to Land's allegations, trial counsel stated two reasons for not seeking severance. One, trial counsel stated that he did not request to have Land's case severed from that of his co-defendants because he did not think that his request would be granted. Trial counsel stated that he was aware that Land's co-defendants had moved to have their trials severed and the Court had denied those motions. Trial counsel stated that he had no reason to believe that a similar motion for Land would be decided any differently. Trial counsel noted that only one of the four factors considered for severance had any application. That factor was the possibility of Land and his co-defendants having antagonistic defenses. Trial counsel stated further that he was aware that Land's co-defendants would be pursuing a defense that they were not responsible for the robbery, and that it was the person in the "security" shirt that was responsible. Trial counsel reasoned that the co-defendant's defense was not directly contradictory to Land's defense because Land's defense was that it was not him on the video in the "security" shirt. Therefore, according to trial counsel, the jury was not in a position where it had to either accept Land's defense or the defenses of Martin and Booker. Quite simply, trial counsel believed that the jury could have both believed that it was not Land who committed the robbery and that the co-defendants also had nothing to do with the robbery. Two, trial counsel stated his reason for not seeking severance was strategic because ...

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